Horror Cafe (1990)

Directed by J. F. Crook, the Horror Cafe was a single episode, unscripted television program which aired in 1990, that brought together a half-dozen of the most notable names in horror fiction at the time. The event was hosted by Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Books of Blood), with novelist Lisa Tuttle (Familiar Spirit), Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Haunted Palace), Peter Atkins (Morning Star, Hellraiser II),  John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and author Ramsey Campbell (The Hungry Moon, The Influence).

The premise of the show and focus of the conversation was to create “the ultimate horror movie for the end of the Millennium,” this and many other topics, including the importance of art and the nature of horror, are all brought under discussion amidst the backdrop of a German expressionist studio.

The episode is excellent, but, as Zachary Paul of Bloody Disgusting remarks, “What a shame this didn’t become an ongoing series of specials. Each episode could’ve highlighted a different group of creative minds given a unique brief to inspire their ideal horror movie.” That is certainly something I should very much like to see today.

The entire program can be viewed online here: Horror Cafe (1990)


Selected quotes

Carpenter: We’re all going to that uncertain end of darkness. I think that’s everybody’s fear.


Barker: The thing that scares me is banality. The banality of the culture we actually live in.


Peter Atkins: To experience it [fear] and walk away from the theatre or close the book actually puts us back in a position of control. We actually control that fear. So, the fear that in real-life we have no control over—whether its fear of the unknown, fear of dissolution, fear of whatever anybody says—whenever that experience is turned into a fiction, whether its cinematic or literary, in some sense, its a saving grace that it is a fiction, that we can walk out, that we can close it. It gives us back that control.


Carpenter [to Barker]: When you’re talking about society, you’re anesthetized. The movie that changed my life was a film called ‘It Came From Outer Space,’ 1952—Harry Essex wrote the scrip, Jack Arnold directed it. 3D. Glasses on. This meteor comes screaming out of the night sky and blows up in my four year-old face. And I felt something. And I got up and I was shrieking in terror. But I’ve gotta tell you, a couple of seconds later, it was the greatest, because I felt such a high. I survived the meteor hitting me right in the face. It came out of the screen. Blew up in my face. I wanted to do that. I wanted to experience that because I was alive. It told me I was alive.


Corman: It was earlier suggested that what we’re doing is giving a negative experience, I don’t think it’s in any way a negative experience, I think it’s a positive, and very helpful, experience. Both on the basis of what John said and also if you go into a Freudian interpretation—I don’t want to go too deeply into that—

Barker : Freud’s under the table.

Corman: Right—where he should stay, at least for the moment.


Carpenter: I think you have to appeal to a universal emotion in people. Not their thoughts but their emotions. You have to get down to their feelings. And it has to be universal. It has to work in India. It has to work in the United States. It has to work in Great Britain. It has to work everywhere, emotionally. A big monster, that’s scary, it walks through that door, we all react the same way.

Campbell: Do we?

Carpenter: The thing in the pit [from The Hungry Moon] in your story, the thing that’s down there, if it was real, and it came out, I guarantee you, everybody at this table, we’d all run away from it.

Campbell: I wouldn’t. I wrote it!


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Halloween (2018) | Review

| | Horror, Thriller | 19 October 2018 (USA)

Directed by: David Gordon Green | Cinematography by: Michael Simmons | Music: John Carpenter

Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney


Summary: 40 years after surviving a massacre perpetrated by deranged serial killer, Michael Myers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) resides in self-imposed exile, in the town of Haddonfield. When the geriatric William Shatner afficionado escapes from captivity, Strode attempts to save her family from his bloodlust.


Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978)—which begs the questions of why the studio decided to settle on the name ‘Halloween,’ as its rather confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with the series (consider if a sequel to The Atomic Submarine was also titled The Atomic Submarine without further clarification). One does not have be familiar with the events from the original Halloween (or its many sequels and spin-offs, minus Halloween III, which belongs to the ‘halloween’ series in name only) to understand the plot, due to the thorough exposition sequences within the film, however, I would contend that ‘Michael Myers’ or more simply ‘Michael,’ or, ‘The Shape’ would have all been better titles. Though, the unimaginative title rather fits with the script which, though generally competent (and very particular as to detail; i.e. Michael’s right eye remains damaged from where Laurie stabbed him in the 1978 film), is likewise unimaginative.

Michael Myers escapes his mental facility—you know he’s going to begin randomly killing people and always slip away well before the body is noticed. Laurie Strode is thought crazy—you know she isn’t. Doctor Sartain is obsessed with Michael Myers and tries pitting Laurie and a police officer against each other—you therefore know that he’s going to do something (though not exactly what) to aid Michael and that he’ll surely be murdered. There is a teenage female main character with a boyfriend—because its a horror movie, you know he’s going to be a inexplicable jerk (though, he doesn’t get murdered, which was one of the few legitimate surprises the film was able to provide). The final confrontation between Strode and Myers occurs at a isolated house—you know its going to go up in flames (one can find examples of this type of failed purification in the The Following, or, Halloween II, among many others).

This isn’t to suggest that a film must be unremittingly unpredictable to be good (certainly not), but if everything in a film is, not just predictable, but something which one has seen before (occasionally, nearly shot-for-shot) then what is the artistic impetus to make the film at all (or at the very least, those copy-pasted scenes)? The photographer’s dilemma: if a there is no difference between looking at a rose and a picture of a rose, why take the picture? Such actions are typically couched as ‘homages’—as if calling them such somehow mitigates their inspirational dearth and narrative superfluity. In a 2017 interview John Carpenter said of the original Halloween, “My idea was that we should never make a sequel to the original Halloween. No story left. There was nothing left to say.” Clearly Blumhouse disagreed (they’re already preparing a sequel).

That being said, there are a number of scenes which take previous shots from the original Halloween and cleverly invert them. For example, the excellent scene towards the end of the film where Laurie is fiercely grappling with Michael upon the upper story of her house. Michael pushes her from the roof and hears a cry (Allyson) from below and turns. When he looks back to the spot where Laurie had fallen she is nowhere to be seen (a inversion of the scene at the end of the original Halloween where Loomis shoots Michael who then falls from the second story of Laurie’s house; when Loomis looks to where he should have landed, Michael is nowhere to be seen).

What is different in the film from many other 70s-80s styled slasher films is the treatment of Laurie’s trauma (due to witnessing Michael’s murder spree) and the deleterious effect it has had upon her family, especially upon her daughter and granddaughter. One of the best scenes in the film features a unbalanced Laurie showing to a family outing, gulping wine, causing a scene, crying and apologizing before leaving. High pathos, well executed.

Such scenes (and those of blood and tension to follow), however, feel strange when sandwiched between oddly placed bits (of what seems like impromptu) comedy and no amount of horror tropes or melodrama can quite curtail a film which is attempting to instill in its audience, a sense of dread, quite like misplaced comedy and Halloween features a couple of such scenes. Sometimes its comedy is effective, as when a young black boy is being watched by his baby sitter who is talking on the phone to her boyfriend, in veiled terms, about smoking marijuana. The precocious youth sees through the rouse and tells the woman that he knows she’s talking about weed. Its hilarious and helps shape the dynamic between the two characters (since we know she is a goodbaby sitter, her premature death is all the more tragic). Later, however, when Michael attacks and grabs the boy’s babysitter and prepares to gut her on the floor, the kid is still quipping. The latter scene is neither funny, nor scary, but simply awkward. Had the kid simply screamed (like the children the original Halloween) and ran, it would have maintained its raw-knuckle tension. In another scene, two police officers are introduced via a debate about the merits of Vietnamese bread, shortly thereafter, in a fit of atmospheric schizophrenia, both cops are gruesomely murdered and turned into fleshy jack’o’lanterns (one of the film’s deleted scenes features a different introduction to the characters which is far superior, as it not only develops them as characters [who are more than the sum of their quips], but also further sketches out Allyson’s boyfriend, Cameron).

John Carpenter, in a conversation with Clive Barker, once described what he considered to be the two fundamental types of horror, “right-wing horror”—wherein the monster is ‘out there’ (a alien, a demon, a mad killer)—and “left-wing horror”—wherein the monster is the familiar (the tribe, the self). Neither is, in so far as I can discern, intrinsically superior to the other, but are always more impactful when both are plied together, for, threats from the outside rarely leave once they have permeated within and vice versa. Halloween neglects this synthesis for a concise spectacle of danger from ‘out there’ and consequently neglects the ‘in here.’ This is, in essence, the reason why it is sensible to critique the excessive obeisance to cliches and tropes, since they are hemmed into only one type of narrative focus—the outside or the inside—and, if too judiciously followed, will yield only impressions (often of other impressions) and never concretizations.


Addendum: John Carpenter’s score is phenomenal and effectively ensconces the unease and dread of the ‘the other’ (as embodied by the film’s principal antagonist), and was, in my judgment, the best aspect of the film.

In The Mouth Of Madness (1994) | Review

| | Drama, Horror, Mystery | 10 Dec. 1994 (Italy) | 3 Feb. 1995 (USA)

Direction: John Carpenter | Cinematography:  G. B. Kibbe | Music: J. Carpenter, Jim Lang

Screenplay: Michael De Luca

Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston


Summary: Horror novels by a reclusive writer begin driving its readers to madness. The author of the novels, Sutter Cane, vanishes. To find him, Cane’s publisher, Harglow, hires insurance fraud investigator, John Trent and partners him with Cane’s editor, Linda Styles. Trent believes that the bizarre happenings are all a set-up by the novelist, Styles and Harglow to generate publicity for the books. Yet when Trent sees things described in Sutter’s novels, he begins to question his sanity.


John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness opens with rock music blaring over scenes of a printing press churning out copies of a book with the same name as the title of the film. Near the end of the film, the book from the beginning becomes a movie itself.

Metanarrative runs throughout, as does the theme of penitential madness, which finds a host in the clever and cynical John Trent, portrayed wonderfully by Sam Neill who, in the 80s and 90s, was partial to playing smart lads who go mad under harrowing circumstances. [There should be a triple-threat boxset featuring: Possession (1981), In The Mouth Of Madness and Event Horizon (1997)]

The film has some tense, unnerving moments (such as the early axeman/coffee shop scene) but fails to maintain atmospheric consistency, partly as a consequence of the outlandish extra-dimensional creatures which populate it and the ineffective jumpscares which they are party to.

In one particularly bad scene (it was my least favorite in the entire film) Trent sees a grotesque policeman with inhuman eyes. He then wakes up to see the monster leering at him from his couch (the shot hangs far too long). Then Trent wakes up again and this time for good. Fake-out scenes are common in horror films (as when a protagonist discovers someone standing behind them and they think its the antagonist but its merely a harmless side character) but double fake out scenes are pretty rare. One likely reason as to why is that they are 1. lazy (uncreative) and 2. inherently difficult to execute properly since the scene builds up tension for the first jump-scare (the first fake-out) but then has no time to build up tension for the second (since jump-scares must happen fast to have any hope of being effective). That being said, the supernatural author, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) was properly threatening (certainly more so than the fish-squid-dogs and bloody-faced children at whose appearance the viewer is supposed to recoil) and his scene with Styles (Julie Carmen) is nerve rattling… until, that is, the screen pans to a prosthetic monster that gurgles and twitches. Its supposed to be menacing but it comes off as merely cartoonish.

I note the scene mentioned above as the addition of a ridiculous element to an otherwise effective scene is a persistent problem within the film. A further example of this can be found in the scene towards the end of the film wherein Sutter Cane becomes a void into which Trent peers as Styles monologues ominously in the background. Its a terrific scene, one of the best in film, until, that is, the monsters (once more) show up, looking like the subterranean cannibals from C.H.U.D. (1984).

A pity there was not more exploration of the film’s themes — such as popular fiction becoming religion and the fear of the loss of identity (a theme that runs throughout much of Carpenter’s work) — monsters, however terrifying, can be killed, a shotgun to the head, a knife to the heart, but ideas appealing to the basest of human impulses, are another matter entirely, for an idea cannot be bruntly eradicated without likewise eradicating all who hold it. There is in that a kernel of terror, unfortunately, the film chooses to overlook that kernel for rubbery stumble-grumbling spooks.